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“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
The statistics make for grim reading: two wins from seven, 100 fewer points scored in their first 10 PRO14 outings than last season, and more carries than any other team in the Champions Cup yet tied for the least amount of tries scored – with seven – after four games.
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It doesn’t exactly prop up the party line that Munster’s attack is flourishing after expert renovation.
The noises around this Munster squad have been positive, the new coaching ticket in particular have been singled out for praise, and this isn’t just from the players in their robotic post-match interview mode, this is a common tale being shared by those close to the camp across the province.
There are a number of mitigating factors to consider around this slump too; World Cup disruption, injuries to key men and player-welfare protocols have acted as speed bumps in the first half of Munster’s season.
Leinster have the depth to cope with injuries to key figures; they can even get by when some of their leading lights fail to shine on the field.
In Munster’s case, when their world-class operators – a seemingly much rarer breed in the south of Ireland these days – are not close to their best, they have little hope of toppling a European giant.
We haven’t seen Conor Murray or Peter O’Mahony affect games with the authority that we have come to expect, but this isn’t just about them, or Keith Earls, or CJ Stander.
The problem at Munster, highlighted so starkly last week under Belfast’s Friday night lights, is a collective one.
You can have grand plans for expansion and attacking innovation, but those blueprints become worthless if you cannot get the basics right.
You have to at least gain parity in the close exchanges on a rugby field if you want to do damage out wide, and Munster have simply been losing too many collisions of late.
Shorn of Stander, Jean Kleyn and Chris Farrell, Munster’s ballast was always going to be tested against Ulster. But the manner of their demise, after a relatively positive start, was startling.
Iron Mike’s words of wisdom came to mind as Munster lost their shape and reverted to old habits, Ulster landing the proverbial punch in the mouth and the men in red returning to Rassie Erasmus rugby, an approach that served the province well but one that came up short at the business end of the season time and again.
Erasmus is long gone, now a World Cup-winning coach, but the shackles of his game-plan have still not been completely cast aside. It’s a tactical approach that no longer suits this squad of players; this is not a pack that will run over the best forward units in Europe.
When you’re rattled on the rugby pitch, clarity of thought can be difficult. Your lungs are burning, your mind is r
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